NEXUS Gas Transmission may face a delay in its anticipated pipeline approval due to a change of guard at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
And one area activist thinks a delay could significantly affect the company’s relationship with its subscribers.
FERC Chair Norman Bay stepped down Feb. 3 after President Donald Trump appointed Commission member Cheryl La Fleur as acting chairman three weeks ago. With two seats on the commission previously vacated, that leaves only LaFleur and Collette Honorable remaining on what is a five-member panel.
Without a FERC quorum of at least three members, the commission cannot issue decisions until at least one new member is in place. That process falls to President Trump, who must nominate a new commission member, then to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducts a background check. Finally, the U.S. Senate must approve the nominee.
Because FERC is still reviewing NEXUS Gas Transmission’s application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity to begin the project, the pipeline company was not among several that requested and received approval before the change of leadership.
“Given the workload that our staff has, it was just something the commissioners were not able to accommodate this time around,” said FERC spokesperson Tamara Young-Allen. “The matter is still pending. The decision-making was not completed in time for a quorum.”
The NEXUS pipeline has neither been rejected nor approved at this time, she said. But given the process of appointing a new FERC commissioner, which can take weeks, it’s possible a decision on the pipeline might not be made this spring as the company hoped.
Young-Allen said to her knowledge there is no immediate action being taken to appoint a new commission member. She said it’s the president’s prerogative when to offer a nomination.
Adam Parker, a stakeholder outreach spokesperson for NEXUS, said the company remains committed to placing the pipeline in service during the fourth quarter of 2017.
“(We) are working with our contractors to ensure a safe and responsible construction plan is in place to achieve a 2017 in-service once authorized by the Commission,” he said.
Terry Lodge, a Toledo attorney representing NEXUS opponents, said a delay gives the activists additional time to inform the public about serious threats the pipeline poses to the community. He said any delay also begins to impinge heavily on the timetable the company has set for itself.
“They have to have a flawless construction season. The longer it takes for them to get any type of formal approval, the more likely their game plan is destroyed, and their finances become more troublesome for them,” Lodge said.
Area NEXUS opponent Paul Wohlfarth said the longer the delay, the better. He said, in time, it could hurt NEXUS’ relationship with its natural gas subscribers.
“If they can’t get their deadlines met in a timely manner their contracts with their subscribers will be null and void, and they’ll have to renegotiate,” he said. “And almost surely it will be a lower price, and it might put the project at risk.”
Reportedly, the current usage rate for NEXUS is only 50-60 percent. If renegotiated prices were lower “it might not justify the price of the pipeline,” Wohlfarth said.
He said that’s why the pipeline company pushed to be approved before LaFleur took the reins at FERC.
“They don’t care about the environment, they just care about their deadlines,” he said.
Reach David Coehrs at 419-335-2010